Even though the Aurora branch of Dae Gee Korean BBQ opened just five months ago, the restaurant fits right in to its new home at 1910 South Havana Street, where the Korean food scene is exploding. The difference between Dae Gee and other Korean barbecue restaurants lining Havana, however, is that the eatery offers a certain level of comfort for those who are unfamiliar with Korean cuisine.
This isn’t necessarily the case for other restaurants in the same category, since I’ve been in situations at some eateries where I had to use my smartphone’s translating app to figure out the details of the menu. At Dae Gee, everything on the menu is explained in detail — including a description of the unlimited side dishes that you get with the purchase of an entree, which can sometimes be a guessing game at other places. The menu lets you know exactly what you’re ordering, so that you have a good idea about the ingredients in your meal. Now with four restaurants in the metro area, Dae Gee is an entertaining and tasty experience for Korean barbecue novices and connoisseurs alike. Owner Joe Kim says that after seven years in Westminster and Denver (on Colorado Boulevard and South Broadway), he was finally confident that this family-run business was ready to become a contender on Havana Street in Aurora.
No doubt, Dae Gee has the art of seducing a hungry meat lover down to a science, with its marked branding (a a stylized pig head with a swirl for its nose) and an enticing slogan beckoning you to come in and “pig out.” If you haven’t figured it out by the time you step inside, you’ll quickly realize that the Korean word for pig is dae gee and the pig theme continues to be omnipresent throughout the restaurant, with the logo on the bar tap handles, neon signs and even employee hand-washing signs. Dae Gee took it a step further and partnered with Upslope Brewing Company to create several house beers: Piggy Back craft lager, Piggie Smalls IPA, Mr. Pig Shot brown ale, and Notorious P.I.G imperial IPA.
Speaking of pigging out, a great way to sample a variety of meats from the menu is to order the all-you-can-eat barbecue meal. For $18 per person for lunch and $24 at dinner, you'll get unlimited helpings of thinly sliced, marinated meats such as sogogi bulgogi (rib-eye beef), dak bulgogi (chicken) and dae gee bulgogi (pork) that you cook yourself on the grill in the middle of your picnic-style table. Short ribs can be added for an additional $10 per person. The meats, most of which are marinated in Dae Gee's house sauce beforehand, pick up additional flavor while sizzling on the grill but still benefit from a heavy-handed shake of one of three signature sauces provided on the table. If you're planning an outing, keep in mind that everyone in your party will need to order the all-you-can-eat meal to take advantage of the deal, which caused a little tension between me and my dining companion on my second visit, when she wanted to order the all-you-can-eat barbecue and I decided to go with the bee beem bhop ($8-$14). The all-you-can-eat special isn't great for kids, either, as the marinated meats might be too spicy for young palates.
The friction was soon resolved when they brought out our bee beem bhop bowls, sizzling stone bowls filled with large helpings of meat, egg, vegetables and rice with a side of spicy red pepper sauce. The kitchen isn't stingy with the fresh and crunchy vegetable portions. The short rib, also liberally portioned, comes out tender and not too fatty, while dashes of sesame oil subtly bring all the ingredients together. The rice continues to cook where it comes in contact with the hot bowl, adding an unexpected and damn delicious crispy texture, while the inner rice layer remains soft and steaming underneath the generous toppings.
If barbeque and bee beem bhop bowls aren’t your thing, you can always try an item off the special late-night menu, offered exclusively at the Havana location only. From 6 p.m. to midnight, you can order from a selection of sixteen special dishes. Kim points out that while the barbecue items and bulgogi dishes are popular any time of the day or night, he wishes more people would try the daechang (beef large intestine, $20) and the boohl jhook kkoo mee kkoht chee (baby octopus skewers, $12) from the late-night menu. While I can’t give an opinion on the daechang, I did try the baby octopus, a satisfying combination of smoky, sweet and sour in each remarkably tender (I was expecting chewy) bite, so I understand the owner's recommendation.
There are also several late-night items you can cook at your table. “We’ve got a unique garage-like patio area at our Havana location where you can grill items without the place getting too smoky," Kim adds. "We open up all the large windows (and the garage door in the summer), which gives it an open-air feel and a more authentic Korean bar experience.”
Indeed, it’s a cool place to have a meal and grill up some pork belly, but don’t think for a minute that the well-ventilated space will save you from leaving without that fresh-grilled smell on your clothes — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just don’t expect to wear the same outfit the next day.
Large parties of ten or more guests at multiple tables are not uncommon, so service can be a little slow (only one or two servers were working on both of my visits). This made for longer wait times on beverage, all-you-can-eat meat and side-dish refills. While that doesn’t speak to the restaurant’s overall ability, it’s worth noting that you should not be in a hurry when dining at Dae Gee. All the more reason to visit the Havana location with friends or family for a relaxing time sipping soju and "pigging out." Dae Gee offers diners Korean-style barbecue in a fun and entertaining way, along with an experience that's traditional enough for Aurora's growing Korean population without being intimidating for first-timers.
Dae Gee is at 1910 South Havana Street and is open Sunday through Wednesday from 11 a.m to 10 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight. For more information, call the restaurant at 720-540-0700 or visit the Dae Gee Korean BBQ website.